IdealShape Up Challenge

Nutrition Challenge 5: Count Calories (the Pain-Free Way)

We’re up to the fifth Weekly Nutrition Challenge! I promise that by the end of this 12-week series (and probably a lot sooner) you’re going to look and feel amazing. And the best part about this challenge is you only have to do it for ONE week to put your calorie intake in perspective.

So far we’ve talked about how to eat five meals a day, what to eat for breakfast, what to eat before and after exercise and why a cheat meal will help you lose weight.

But there’s something important we still need to discuss… that’s how MUCH you’re eating.

When we eat healthy but don’t see the numbers on the scale go down, it’s usually because we’re eating more calories than we need — and often, way more than we realize. That’s why it pays to spend some time getting familiar with calories.

Let’s start with a few terms so we’re all on the same page:

  • Maintenance Calories: This is the amount of calories your body needs to sustain itself in its current shape and form, including physical activity.
  • Basal Metabolic Rate: This is the amount of calories it takes for your body to stay alive, if you were lying in bed resting all day.
  • Caloric Deficit: This is when you are eating under your maintenance calories. To lose weight or fat, you need to be eating in a deficit.
  • Caloric Surplus: This is when you are eating above your maintenance calories. To gain muscle, you’re creating and building new tissue, so you need to feed your body extra in order to do that.

Once you know these numbers, which we’ll help you figure out, then achieving your ideal shape will be so much easier. You don’t have to count calories forever — you may choose to do it until you reach your goal, or just for a few weeks to get an idea of portion sizes and the calorie content in different types of foods. It will be eye opening!

Your Challenge: Do the Calorie Math for One Week

Figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) today using a BMR calculator like this one. Then, if your goal is fat loss, stick to your BMR for your calorie target for the rest of this week. If your goal is building muscle, add 500 calories to your BMR. It’s OK if you’re within 50 calories above or below your target. Then evaluate your results and adjust your calories accordingly for the next week.


Tip: Tracking your calories doesn’t have to be tedious and time-consuming! Here are a few ways to make it easier:

  1. Get an app. There are many free apps on smart phones with huge food databases where you just enter your foods and it tracks everything for you! You can even save common meals and add your own foods into the database. My favorites are My Net Diary and My Fitness Pal.
  2. Don’t be afraid of repetition. If you find a day’s meal plan that you love and that fits your calories, keep eating the same things so you don’t have to track every single day.
Adjust Calories According to Your Goals

If your goal is to lose fat…

To lose fat you need to be eating in a caloric deficit first and foremost. It’s actually easier than it sounds, especially if you’re spreading your calories out across five small meals a day.

A good starting place is to set your calories at your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Remember this is the amount of calories your body burns at rest, so your daily activities will create some deficit. If you aren’t losing fat, you can slowly decrease your calories. If you’re feeling low on energy or extremely hungry, you can slowly increase your calories. The key is to pick a starting point and stick to it for at least 1-2 weeks, then evaluate and adjust, and continue this cycle.

Measuring waist

If your goal is to gain muscle…

Why would someone want to actually gain weight? Because the more muscle mass you have, the shapelier your body looks. Have you ever seen someone who is really thin but still kind of flabby? Not our goal!

So this may not be your objective now, but you might get to a point after you’ve reached your ideal weight where you want to focus on building muscle. The more muscle, or we like to call it “lean body mass,” the faster your metabolism is — and the more you can eat while maintaining your weight. Once again, it’s important to increase calories slowly, wait 1-2 weeks and evaluate.


Don’t worry, you’ll likely be able to put on some muscle while in the fat loss stage, especially if you’re working hard in your workouts and eating those pre- and post-workout meals! 😉

Track Your Results

Weight loss can vary from person to person but about 1-2 pounds a week is what you should expect after the first week or two of the Shape Up Challenge. You may lose a little faster than that because you’ll be shedding some extra water weight. The heavier you are, the faster you can lose, whereas if you’re smaller you may only lose a half-pound a week (but that’s OK!).

By the way, the scale should not be the be-all-end-all for tracking progress! Weight can fluctuate from day to day for a variety of reasons. So keep taking measurements and progress pictures, and also choose a pair of tight jeans to try on every couple of weeks. They won’t be tight for long!

Questions? Ask away in the comments!

P.S. Want Free Workouts Too? If you’re not already signed up for the IdealShape Up Challenge, click here!  It’s six short, ultra-effective workouts delivered straight to your email each week.


Lindsey Mathews

Lindsey Mathews

Head Trainer

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